Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 25 Oct 2007

Philip Glass and Patti Smith 20071019

I've been a fan of Philip Glass's works for a few years now, although I have not managed to collect many recordings yet. I'm not even sure where I started with him, but must have heard the music in various films and other places. He's doing a series of concerts to celebrate his 70th birthday, so I really wanted to get to see him as there may not be another chance. I could have fancied Music in 12 Parts, but I thought that my other half would not last the four hours. An alternative was a performance, with Patti Smith, of some Alan Ginsberg poetry. I'm not really into poetry, but thought I would take the chance.

I initially assumed that the venue was the Barbican, but it was actually St Luke's down the road. This is a former church converted to a performance area. We went to their crypt cafe in hope of decent food, but they were only serving sandwiches. The performance started, as promised, at 7:30pm. We were seated on the balcony, itself an impressive steel structure. There was a stage with a piano and very subtle speakers around it. You barely need amplification in a venue that small. PG and PS entered to great applause and lauched into the first poem with PG playing one of his dances that I know well. It was actually one of Patti's poems, but the words washed over me as I revelled in hearing one of my heroes play the piano with me having a great view over his shoulder. There was more poetry and som chat from Patti. It seems that they were both close friends of Ginsberg and she had some nice anecdotes. We enjoyed her presentation style. PG then played a few solo pieces. His annoucing was very stilted. I'm guessing that he does not often do public speaking. The pieces were some I didn't know, but were very much of his style. I thought that he was going to stumble in the first. I think that at his age this can be pardoned and he kept going well. Patti then sang some of her own songs with her guitarist, both on acoustic guitars. Then I think there were a couple more poems to finish. It was all over by 9pm.

I would have preferred to just have PG perform his works, but this was a satisfactory compromise and a new experience in general.

[21:11] | [Music] | Comments | G

Mon, 15 Oct 2007

Mythical TV

I've been using ZapDVB as a simple TV and radio recorder via my DVB/Freeview card. It's generally worked well, but has let me down a couple of times lately for no obvious reason. It has some nice features, like being very unobtrusive and converting radio recordings to Ogg Vorbis, but it's a bit limited if you want more of a 'Media PC' where you can watch TV and choose to record at any time or select what you want to record from an EPG.

I've heard a lot about MythTV. It can be a full media PC if you want or can be used on a normal desktop. I followed the Ubuntu guide to make it do everything on my PC and let me use it as normal. You can get clever and have one or more dedicated 'backend' machines doing to recording and processing, but that's more than I need. Much as I'd love to have a dedicated media PC, and another for music making, I can't really justify the expense, space requirements and power consumption just now.

I had a couple of issues with the install and set-up. Firstly I couldn't configure my TV card. This turned out to be incorrect tables in the database it uses. I forced the re-install of those and it worked. Then it took me a while to get the right set of channels with appropriate EPG, but now it's working.

The GUI is very oriented towards a set-top box using a remote control with everything running full screen and simple menus. You can use it via the keyboard, but you have to learn what all the keys are. I'm still finding some. There's a list in the documentation. I also need to work out how to do things like converting recorded files to other formats and getting access to stuff I've recorded in the past. I need to read up on plug-ins and themes that might help.

I did a bit of music performance at the weekend. My kids have been attending the Bedfordshire Music Saturday Music Centre at Biggleswade for a few weeks. They can do various activities for a few pounds a week each. They both show encouraging signs of musical ability that I want to foster. The last session was a special one where adults were encouraged to bring instruments. About ten did and an orchestra was formed from the kids and adults to play a piece written by one of the music staff. I took my electric guitar to have any chance of being heard and ended up playing some chords on the middle east flavoured tune. It was good fun. I hope there might be some more opportunities for me to play.

Ages ago a friend gave me an ancient Alesis Microverb that he had lying around. It lay around my shelves for a few more years until I passed it on. Last week it bounced back to me. It's not worth much on ebay, but I thought I should at least check that it worked. I linked it into the effects look of my Peavey and fired it up. It's actually quite fun with reverbs from a small room to an 'infinite space'. I expect it could be even more impressive in stereo. I may as well hang on to it and see if it can find a place in my 'studio'. Not that I will come anywhere near the scale of Malc's racks. I expect I could do most of what I need with software effects, but some hardware may add an extra flavour.

[21:53] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 11 Oct 2007

Listening to Rainbows

I downloaded my copy of In Rainbows last night. I've listened to it a couple of times, but it was whilst working so it did not have my full attention. It's definitely Radiohead. It is not a massive change of direction by any means. That's not necessarily a bad thing as what they were doing was good to my ears. I'm happy with it so far and will wait to see which tracks grow on me most.

I've seen some comments around about the bit rate of the files. I've not confirmed myself if it is CBR or VBR. I can't see any reason why it should be the former. Is there any software or hardware in use that doesn't do VBR? It's going to give you slightly better quality for a given file size. I'm fairly sure that the old BBC Beethoven downloads were something like 128kb CBR, which is just silly, especially for classical music. I accept that your average listener would not know what I am on about, but I think it matters. They may have been brainwashed in the past that 128kb in some form was 'CD quality', but it isn't. Higher rates definitely sound better to me, but I would struggle to tell a CD from anything over 200kb. As for recent claims that MP3 and other lossy formats only contain 10% of the information, that's rubbish too. Most of what they get rid of is what you can't hear.

There's a lot of rubbish talked about audio quality in general. A recent Slashdot story generated a lot of discussion of 'audiophile gadgets', from $7000 speaker cables to $500 volume knobs, to magical digital clocks, to system upgrades over the phone?!?. Various examples listed here. I'd love to have a reasonable set-up to listen to my music on, but I'm not sure I could bring myself to spend more than a few hundred on a CD player, amp and speakers, with some reasonable cables. Still, I suppose it's not a crime to take peoples' money if it is given willingly.

[21:56] | [Music] | Comments | G

Tue, 09 Oct 2007

Rainbow Time

I just had an email update about the Radiohead album that I ordered. The download is available from tomorrow. I had concerns that it would be in some locked-down format that I might not be able to play on Linux, but...

THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s. (their caps)

Shame it's not Ogg Vorbis, but you can't have everything. I expect it to be on the file-sharing networks withing seconds of being available. Personally I wouldn't care if it had watermarking to identify who bought that copy. That sort of protection does not infringe on my ability to listen to the music how and where I wish, but would identify those breaching any restrictions on sharing.

I shall report further when I've had a chance to listen. It's LUG tomorrow night.

[21:12] | [Music] | Comments | G

Fri, 05 Oct 2007

Musical Fun

A couple of weekends back Malc held a little party at his country estate. Lots of music was made that included me doing some singing and drumming. I was impressed by some great dancing and singing by Justine. I took the kids and they enjoyed it, but that meant that we had to leave early, so I missed a few turns. Malc has listed the performances. I uploaded a few pictures.

The big musical news this week was Radiohead suddenly announcing that their new album is imminent after months of teasing us with reports from the studio. They even issued a series of coded messages before the announcement. The big deal is that In Rainbows will be released as a download next week and as a box set of CDs and LPs in December. You can set your own price for the download, but the box set is 40 quid! (Not Quids). It will be interesting to see what people will pay when given the choice. Sucker that I am I went for the box set, but I get the download too. I wonder what format it will be in and if it will be usable on Linux.

Sticking with audio, but on a different front, Skype announced a new version of their Linux client. It's still a couple of digits behind the Windows one and so still lacks the much-lusted-after video feature. It's supposed to offer better audio quality, but I have yet to test this. There have been major changes to the GUI. The menus have gone, but you can get at most of them via a non-obvious button. One thing I preferred about the old Linux version over Windows was the way it showed groups. It showed all contacts in shrinkable groups rather than one group at a time. Now there is no sign of groups and I can't see how to hide those who are off-line. I use Skype mainly for keeping in touch with people at work, but make the odd voice call. Video will be useful to see the new baby in the family, but I will have to use my Windows laptop for that.

[18:11] | [Music] | Comments | G

Thu, 27 Sep 2007

Moving Pictures

I shall try a lazyweb request. I'm getting some grief that our Linux computer does not allow us to view video over Skype. I really don't want to have to have a Windows PC at home and Skype seem in no rush to update the Linux client. So are there any other options that would allow non-technical relatives to use their webcam on a Windows PC so that we could watch the video? Ideally we would like voice communication as well. Two-way video would be great, but this means finding a Linux-supported webcam. It seems tricky to find a definitive list of those that work.

I await a flood of suggestions ;)

[22:21] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Wed, 26 Sep 2007

Considering a change

I may have mentioned this before, but much as I like the simplicity of Pyblosxom, I sometimes wish for a blog system that made it easier to post and to change aspects of my site. For instance, I'm writing this post in a text editor and will then have to FTP it to the server. If I've missed out a closing tag or something I'll have to repeat the process.

One reason for using Pyblosxom was that I wanted to play with Python and I thought that I might write some code for my site, but that just hasn't happened. The software has been developed further, but I'm a little behind on versions. Someone has even written a new web front end, but that still may not be enough to keep me.

A few friends have been using Wordpress. Even though I'm not mad on it using PHP and MySQL, I appreciate that it will give me much more flexibility and make it very easy to change things. There seems to be a good variety of plug-ins for cool things like OpenID that I want to play with. Bigpresh set me up a site to play with on his server and I'm impressed.

So unless my fanbase (which may exceed that of Flight of the Conchords) objects I plan to move over to Wordpress soon. I may well leave the Pyblosxom site here to avoid breaking anyone's links.

[12:51] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Fri, 21 Sep 2007

Semantic Web Kicking Off?

I've been reading about the Semantic Web for about 3 years now. It makes sense to me that web pages should be readable by software as well as by people. With the right software you can tell from my site where I live, who I know and what sites are about me. Of course, you will only get the information I choose to share. It's disappointing that more people are not making use of these technologies. They allow for so many cool things, like finding out what web sites are based in your area. Ultimately they could make search much more effective, even bearing in mind an old essay by Cory Doctorow.

In the last couple of weeks things have started looking up. Firstly I found Foafing the Music that looks at my FOAF (warning, site not updated in ages) file and tries to work out what music I might like based on what information I have there. Interesting, but just a toy for now.

This week I read about Six Apart adding semantic features like FOAF and XFN. They also use OpenID, echoing my thoughts on open social networks.

A comment elsewhere on that story revealed that photo site Smugmug was also getting on the FOAF/XFN bandwagon.

I've written one small program that collects geographical information from a set of sites to display on a Google map. I'd like to do more in that area.

[21:46] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Tue, 18 Sep 2007

Beat It

The weekend was mostly spent at Malc's for Beat Camp. Unfortunately not many people could make it on Saturday, so basically it was me and Malc playing dun dun (big drums) all afternoon, with breaks for some chat and playing in his studio. Marjolein came along after dinner for some indoor drumming.

Sunday was better attended with up to a dozen of us out in the sunshine learning some new songs. My brain was totally full. After both days I was exhausted and ready for sleep by 10pm. It was all great fun. I even got to perform on the debut performance of an old song. We're due to perform some of the new material at Malc's garden party this coming weekend. We shall see how much I can remember. I'm not a drum machine.

The kids got some extra music too when we went along to Bedfordshire Music's Saturday Music Centre. They are both showing signs of musical talent so we're happy to encourage them. I quite enjoy making music with my kids.

My fledging music studio (sic) gained a microphone stand from Ebuyer, along with a solar powered charger to charge my phone and PDAs. It has an internal battery so that I can take it along to extend the battery life.

Since my LUG talk about OpenStreetmap I've been playing with BSGPSPDA on my PDA/GPS thingy. It shows great promise as it can show the OSM maps for a given location, but you have to download them first. I wrote a little Python script to do this that works very nicely. I would really like to develop it into a proper GUI application that shows the maps and lets you choose an area to download. That will mean learning some more Python.

I've had a few issues with the PDA software, but I've been in contact with the author and he is working on them. I already have a new version to try. Try that with Microsoft!

[22:20] | [Music] | Comments | G

Thu, 13 Sep 2007

Hert LUG 20070912

I gave a brief talk on OpenStreetmap a year on from the presentation by some of their main people. I posted to my diary that I was doing a talk and was sent a document used by the founder in one of his presentations. This is why I so enjoy working in this sort of group. Most people there are helpful and friendly. Everyone is working for the good of the project rather than their own gain, although I expect many people are looking to gain something from it, even if it's just a free map of their local area.

The talk went down well with the well attended meeting. There were lots of questions, but I had some help from others who had also played with OSM.

I have some work to do in mapping out my recent traces from Ireland and Israel. I've had some issues with the latest JOSM editor, but just received some hints on that to try out. I also have some new software to play with from Bettersoftware. Unfortunately you can't access the details on the site without registering. It looks good as it allows for copying the rendered map tiles from the OSM site onto your PDA so that you can see them as you move around. This will make it much easier to see what has been mapped already and could also be useful for finding your way around new places. I need to play with it.

Also at the LUG, Rob spoke about his experiences with trying to write a Linux USB interface to a little phot-displaying keyring device. He's been trying to reverse engineer the protocol by analysing the data transferred when it talks to it's Windows software. Interesting stuff, but I'm not sure I would have the patience. There are other applications I would like to develop when I find the time.

[13:18] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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